A Baltimore police officer who received a $100 bill tucked inside a gift card during an awards banquet claims he was demoted to midnight patrol after he returned the money, according to sources familiar with the ethics probe.
Officer Kirk D. Noaker, according to police sources, maintains that he was reassigned two weeks after he wrote a report questioning the propriety of accepting a secret cash gift from a powerful neighborhood watch group.
A department spokesman confirmed yesterday that three officers received $100 from the Northwest Citizens Patrol during a December banquet, were ordered to return the money and are under investigation to determine if they followed through on the order.
Officials also said for the first time yesterday that the commander of the Northwestern District, Maj. Errol L. Dutton, received a $40 gift certificate to a local restaurant, but they said he gave the gratuity back.
Internal investigators have two scenarios to sort through. The official story from high-level sources at police headquarters is that Dutton heard about the gifts and quickly notified commanders.
Sources sympathetic to Noaker say that Dutton only returned the money after Noaker wrote his report to supervisors that triggered the investigation.
Commanders, one source said, "are making the one guy who stood up to do what was right into the bad guy."
Another supervisor said Noaker "is the only one who did the ethical thing" and added that midlevel and high-level officers pressured him to drop his assertions. "They tried to make him feel like his job was in jeopardy," the source said.
Top police commanders, who deny Noaker's transfer was punitive, said Noaker had been told of his assignment switch before the annual awards dinner.
The department officials are quietly suggesting that Noaker is trying "to use this issue as leverage" to escape disciplinary action himself. They said he had become dissatisfied with his assignment as a liaison detective to the patrol.
Robert W. Weinhold, a department spokesman, said yesterday that three Northwestern District officers each received $100 at the annual December awards dinner held by the Northwest Citizens Patrol, a neighborhood watch group that covers Upper Park Heights.
It is routine for community groups and businesses, including The Baltimore Sun, to recognize officers by giving awards. But departmental rules prohibit officers from receiving any award or gift without getting permission from Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.
The president of the patrol group, Rusty White, handed out white envelopes to the three city officers in front of hundreds of guests, including politicians, judges and police commanders from several departments.
Each envelope contained a card with a $100 bill inside. Written on the outside of the envelope was: "Do not open until you get home."
Frazier, speaking on a Friday radio show, said the internal investigation centers on whether the officers notified his office when they discovered the money and if they returned it once ordered to do so by their supervisors.
The rules, Frazier said on WJHU-FM's "The Marc Steiner Show," are to stem corruption, such as preventing "officers from taking money from a business and then providing extra patrol" -- not to prohibit community groups from recognizing officers.
"If you get an award, we have to know about it," Frazier said. "I don't think I've ever disapproved of one."
Department officials said last week that the investigation includes the officers and whether supervisors acted appropriately once they learned of the gifts. Weinhold said yesterday Dutton is not under investigation for the $40 gift certificate.
Dutton, who declined interview requests last week, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
White, the president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, also declined to comment yesterday.
The Northwest Citizens Patrol started in 1981 in the basement of an Orthodox synagogue and has become a national model of how neighborhood watch groups operate, with 700 volunteers who watch out for thousands of fami- lies in Upper Park Heights.
Noaker was one of two Northwestern District officers assigned to the patrol.
Working in plainclothes, it was his job to investigate major crimes and act as a liaison between the patrol and prosecutors and other detectives. Another uniformed officer rode with patrol members.
Police have credited the patrol with drastically reducing crime, but criticism arose for allowing officers to work exclusively with a religious-based group that initially only allowed Orthodox Jews to belong. To ease concerns, the patrol in 1994 expanded its membership to include all Upper Park Heights residents.
No evidence has surfaced that the patrol expected anything in return for the gifts.
Sources say that Noaker, a two-year veteran with extensive military police experience, felt he would be breaking departmental rules by keeping the money.
Sources familiar with Noaker's version say he was uneasy about opening his envelope at home after the dinner, and later returned the money to White's wife -- White was in Israel on a trip -- with a letter explaining his reasoning. The officer then wrote an official report of his actions.
Two weeks later, sources said, he was transferred from his plainclothes detail, which included setting up computer programs to monitor crime statistics, and into uniformed duty on the midnight shift.
Pub Date: 3/03/98